Surfing’s Olympic debut, Tokyo 2020, was set to be our Pastime of Kings’ grand coming out. The world stage, all eyez on us, respectability, riches, honor, gold gushing in from all corners.
Well, Covid-19 sure through* a wrench in those works but we march on, unbent.
The Irukanjis march on, unbent but maybe breaking.
You certainly recall how Australia’s team, made up of Julian Wilson, Owen Wright, Sally Fitzgibbons, Stephanie Gilmore excitedly took on the name of a tiny, nasty jellyfish then later adopted the tagline “Deadly in the Water.”
Each qualified well over a year ago but their very poor performances at Newcastle and Narrabeen have rocked the proud surfing nation.
Australia’s surfers were selected prior to the Covid-19-induced postponement of the Olympics last year, meaning their inclusion is based on form from 2019. Poor performances at the first two events of the WSL season, in Newcastle and Narrabeen, puts added pressure on the quartet. Fitzgibbons and Gilmore were both knocked out in the quarter-finals in Narrabeen, while neither Wilson or Wright made the quarters in either event. In contrast, reserve surfer Ryan Callinan made the quarter-final in Newcastle and youngster Morgan Cibilic did not bow out until the semis.
“We’re not concerned,” says Surfing Australia’s Wilcomes. “We have four of the world’s best surfers. They have so much talent and expertise that they bring. It is not ideal with those results, but there has been a break from competition and this is a great time to reflect, take away those learnings and put them into action in the competitions ahead.”
“We’re not concerned.”
Nothing says “not concerned” like saying “not concerned.”
The quartet will, in any case, have to go to El Salvador then Mexico to surf in ISA stuff, which will be a total hassle and apparently demanded by chief Fernando Aguerre, then off to Tokyo.
Will Australians take to the street, demanding Wilson and Wright’s replacement by Callinan and Cibilic before then?
More as the story develops.
Margaret River Pro, day one analysis: “John John Florence Like Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, he makes hungry where most he satisfies!”
Great day in waves Hawaiian Seth Moniz described as "five feet".
Great opening day in what Seth Moniz called Hawaiian five feet at Main Break, Margaret River.
We know the biggest waves went unridden, Moniz said the “bomb sets are not rideable” but nonetheless it did confirm the full extinction of the mid-length step-up in the pro surfing caper. The days of pro’s riding anything bigger than 6’6” are over.
The black hole in the quiver is between 6’6” and 9’0”. Pros now ride 6’2″s, what my pal Derek Hynd calls “Christmas boards for kids”, as a matter of course in ten-foot surf. No current, no crowd, and a jet ski to ferry you back after every wave; there’s no need for a board that can deal with a big paddle anymore.
You can’t argue, of course, with what John Florence can do on a 6’2” in big surf. It’s been so era defining that Griffin Colapinto admitted he was riding a 6’1” copy of John’s board and the rest of the field was doing likewise.
Medina was on a 6’2”, looking imperious, Ryan Callinan on a 6’4” laid down the best backside two-turn combo ever seen at Main Break rights for a 9.80.
We barely need to say Main Break rights, it is righthander now as defined by the world’s best. By my count, three lefts were ridden today. One by Japanese rookie Amuro Tsuzuki for the heat winning high score of a 7.33, a wobbly fat-faced thing. Other lefts ridden by Jordy Smith and Ace Buchan were inconsequential to heat totals.
Thus, despite some spitting bombs in the afternoon and an over fifty-year history in surfing competition the lefthanders at Main Break were left to go unridden.
The one impression left by John Florence, both after his heat, and the extended edit he dropped the day before the comp began was that we wanted more. Like Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra he makes hungry where most he satisfies.
Unlike Sally Fitzgibbons, who nonetheless did us a great service in the booth when she broke down the mechanics of the Main Break right, describing the difficulty of getting the first turn high on the face, the extensive area of dead, flat water to be traversed and the insanity of the end closeouts, whereby two great confluences of whitewater triangles converge, making surfers into versions of aquatic crash-test dummies.
I paraphrase her, but that was the gist of it.
It highlighted, seconds later, the rarity, the perfection of the read and the gap between John and the rest of the field, when he backdoored the right, spent the whole wave ducking and weaving deep behind an imperfect curtain and emerged with just enough time to throw a claim and smash the end section.
“You never see guys backdoor the bubble,” said Jack Robinson with respect to John’s ten-point ride.
Was it the best tube-ride ever at Margarets?
Jack Robinson: “It’s the best one I’ve ever seen”.
John sees something other’s don’t out there. Primarily the line drive off the bottom. He was the first guy to identify that very thin band of energy at the base of the wave, a fraction higher up than had traditionally been ridden as the correct place for a bottom turn. That would slingshot him high into the face without losing the speed and centrifugal force necessary for the high-speed arc he pioneered in 2015 and perfected in 2017.
Others are now starting to take the same line. Griffin Colapinto found it, as did Ryan Callinan.
Heat five, with Italo, Jack Robbo and Jacob Wilcox saw all three surfers utilising the Florence line. It was the best heat of the day. I favoured Italo’s forever bottom turns, probably only shaded by Medina’s for length. Judges were more impressed with Wilcox’s efforts to attack the lip. I’m not totally convinced by Robinson’s top turns; they sometimes look two-staged. There is the opening drive, then a second effort, which lacks the fluidity and the drama of that Florence whip in the late stages of his top turn. No doubt that is where he is aiming though.
Today would have been a great day for long heats with a leaderboard. Everyone surf once, in an hour or ninetyminute heat; we would have got a lot more John John, a lot more radical surfing as everyone warmed up. John had plenty more to give, as did Gabe.
Matty MacGilvray probably didn’t. He surfed about as good as he ever has in a heat to lay down an excellent score. If there is a rookie to explode out of this event, it will be him. Morgan Ciblic was not able to recover after wearing monster set on the head. In an extended heat with a leaderboard he could have easily had the time.
We could have then cut the field based on those who couldn’t cut it at ten-foot Margarets, instead of having an entertaining day with zero consequences for the draw.
No one got sent home.
Everyone gets a gold star and a second chance.
Which makes tomorrow a difficult decision for the comp director.
Two more heats of round one, then the elimination round.
Do you throw them out at the Box? And “waste” what could be peak conditions out there?
Or run them at Main Break and then go to the Box?
Now that the gals are also being fitted into the same waiting period time is a precious commodity. They won’t get it done in this swell cycle, which means gambling on fair winds at the end of the waiting period, by which time, this semi-epic day will be ancient history.
It’s the same old problem.
And we are no closer to a solution.
Longtom reviews Chas Smith’s Reports from Hell: “Chas Smith looks, as my Grandaddy would say, like a ‘long streak of pelican shit’. Or, as my wife whose roots are in the swamps of Essex would say, ‘he’s all prick and ribs'”
“It’s just, Chas,” I pointed at the name printed in yellow under the Title “Reports from Hell”, “is a kind of colleague, boss and I wanted to pay full tick so the cunt wouldn’t feel I was treating his bookkindly because I got it for free”.
“Ah, yep” she nodded, “the reviewer’s curse”.
I paid overs because I wanted no bias.
If I got gypped, then I could feel justified in giving it to Chas, full blast. Also knowing: when I take up my 80 grand (plus benefits) package at the WSL he could go after me without kid gloves. I hate kid gloves.
Reports from Hell is a very funny book, a rollicking adventure yarn, geopolitical exposition and chronicle of a period in recent history that already feels incredibly ancient. I refer to the post 2001 War on Terror, whereby the West, principally the United States of America referred to by Al Qaeda as the far enemy, invaded the Middle East as retribution for September 11 and caused a conflagration that the World is still coming to terms with.
The basic narrative outline of the book follows Smith and his pals as they make multiple journeys – more than journeys actually, more like the Homeric odysseys of old – to the Middle East in search of the well-spring of Islamic terror, or what his pal Josh more accurately terms: the roots of violent, anti-state radicalism.
The twist in the tale, as we all know, is that Chas combines the search for the roots of Islamic terror with a surf trip. This leads to some very funny scenes. Successfully pitching Surfer mag editor Sam George to bankroll the trip is a highlight of the opening chapters of the book.
The prologue where Smith both interviews and regales former US commander David Petraeus with tales of surfing in Yemen is classic Chas Smith. The prologue ends with a piece of prose which can be regarded as peak Chas: “I have seen and experienced a world vanished forever by an epic explosion, and as General Petraeus starts to drone on about Saudi Arabia being our great ally and a great investment opportunity, I put my Tom Ford sunglasses on, slouch deeply in my chair, and stare into the burning klieg light”.
The prologue hooked me, but one of my terrible weaknessesis reading the ending of a book afterI’ve read the first beginning to see whether the juice justifies the potential squeeze, so to speak. Reading a book is a substantial investment of time. Smith’s final line is a classic too, a commitment to a life as a “violent anti-state surf journalist”. I knew I would finish the book after reading it.
That last line, and the book as a whole, can be read both as a prequel to Smith’s surf journalism career and the modus operandi of said career. It illuminates the rambunctious fixation on the superficial which somehow uncovers the swirling morass of absurdity below. Seen through that prism a surf trip to Yemen with a side mission to discover the well-spring of Salafi jihadism in one of the most violent countries on earth makes a weird but perfect sense.
I spent the opening chapters with some unease about whether I would find Smith’s travelling companions Josh and Nate likeable enough to enjoy the book. Soon enough though these fellow young Christian Americans revealed themselves to be perfect foils for the main narrator.
That Christian innocence and lack of depravity did strike me as odd through the opening stanzas, somehow I expected more sex, drugs and rock and roll from our protagonists. Scenes where the guide, driver and protector of the first trip to Yemen, Major Ghamdan is keen on some whoring while the Americans shake their fingers at him in moral disgust have a peculiar comic flavour from the inversion of expected values.
You’d expect the young Americans to be the ones sucked down by what Osama Bin Laden called “the most decadent culture in human history…corrupted by a depth of moral licentiousness never before seen.”
There are very many classic scenes chasing surf in Yemen with Major Ghamdan, which I think justify the price of admission alone.
Smith is very far from the only writer to employ provocation as a chief rhetorical weapon, even if in the chummy world of surf journalism back slapping, pocket pissing and mutual appreciation of flatulences are the far more accepted methods. By the measure of provocation, even if delivered in good faith, he is aligned more with both classic American satirist/humorists like HL Mencken and Mark Twain and more nihilistic European writers like Michel Houllebecq.
Houllebecq stated, “I admit that invective is one of my pleasures. This only brings me problems in life, but that’s it. I attack, I insult. I have a gift for that, for insults, for provocation. So I am tempted to use it,” adding in a later interview, “My desire to displease masks an insane desire to please”.
Without too much speculation, the same motivations could be applied to Smith. The list of stinks his provocations have landed him in is a long and legendary one. Mick Fanning, Rip Curl, the WSL, former BG writer Rory Parker,the Ashton Gogganses, many more I’ve forgotten and, most notably, Hezbollah.
A good chunk of the middle third of Reports from Hell is spent detailing the adventures of Chas and colleagues as war correspondents for an Al Gore internet channel when Israel invaded Lebanon. It’s very good, very funny, very tense writing. A send-up of classic war correspondents and a damn fine account of being taken hostage by Hezbollah during an actual war.
What makes Chas relish for the stink so comic is his lack of genetic gifts as far as the pugilistic arts are concerned. He looks, as my Grandaddy would say, like a “long streak of pelican shit”. Or, as my wife whose roots are in the swamps of Essex would say, “he’s all prick and ribs”. Which makes Smith less physically qualified to stare down Hezbollah bro’s or infuriated surf journos than it does to embrace designer jeans.
His development of a new genre of non-fiction, war fashion, with it’s delicate and detailed inventories of clothing and accoutrements pays homage to Bret Easton Ellis’ infamous character Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
The final third of the book, carried out in an increasingly melancholy tone as the three protagonists began to disentangle and the various dreams and aspirations that had united their quest began to fade bought forth weird and conflicting feelings in me.
It took some time to identify them.
The War on Terror, as horrific as it had been, now seemed far enough back in the distant past to bring on a strange feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia for a simpler time. And despite my intense fear of Islamic mobs, I felt strange yearnings to be among the goat herders and believers of Yemen.
Radical Islamic fundamentalism is the new alternative discourse claimed Josh at the beginning of the book. Despite the tale being told from the point of view of the Americanos it was increasingly the Yemenis and the Lebanese who’s positions I began to identify with.
That yearning for the pre-modern may be something more universal than accounted for.
Smith runs through a potted history of Islam, up to the development of Al Qaeda by Yemeni-Saudi Osama Bin Laden and Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahiri. My ignorance of this geopolitical as well as religious force had been as complete as my lack of knowledge of the surf potential of Yemen.
In a real sense, Reports from Hell, with Christian gents analysing the Middle East is a mirror image of the book the Father of Salafi Jihadism Sayyad Qutb wrote after returning to Egypt after two years in America. In his book, “The America that I have Seen” Qutb found American life primitive and shocking; he saw Americans as “numb to faith in religion, faith in Art, and faith in spiritual values altogether”.
It’s hard to say what Qutb would have thought of Smith and his pals but lacking in faith would not be a criticism he could level against them.
Courage, insouciance and a true belief somehow unite Islamic radicalism, surf culture, war, American decadence and the hunt for true adventure in this very funny book.
This is the first Chas Smith book I’ve read but I already know it’s by far the best.
For postage and handling I’m happy to send mine around.
Tomoz afternoon Main Break Margs, site of the fourth event on the abbreviated WCT calendar, is gonna light up size-wise, eight-feet, maybe a few ten-footers, twelve-to-eighteen if you prefer your size via Surfline.
For the WSL, the swell is a godsend after the nothingness of Newcastle and Narrabeen and gifts the company a canvas to showcase its commitment to its fav cause, equal pay, equal play for gals.
Three years ago, the WSL, and I quote the presser, became “the first and only US based global sports league, and among the first internationally, to achieve prize money equality.”
A good thing.
Tomorrow, some time around three pm, and after mowing through a dozen heats of the men in a building south-west swell, the WSL is expected, at least by me, to loose the best women in the world into serious Margaret River.
Courtney, Tyler, Bronte, Stephanie, Carissa, you know they got the skills to ride these bulldozers.
Argument 1: I mean, prize money should be equal for men and women, obviously. Duh. I don’t know why this is a thing we still have to argue about in 2021 but here we are. (Jen See.)
Argument 2: the men have a way bigger viewer draw, more ‘eyes watching’, isn’t that really what the sponsors want, what the advertisers are paying for? It seems with the men, the sponsors, the advertisers, get more return, (more eyes watching, thus generating more income), for their investment. (Sam Waters.)
Argument 3: Scrap the menswomens division and have just one division so $ from both goes in one pot for the best riders be they men or women (sorry woke crew, I invoked gender something totally made up I know). Besides, it’s longboarding which is womanly so they should be able to compete. (Aloha 12)
The documentary Girls Can’t Surf was built around the premise that if only men released the jackboot from women’s necks and allowed ’em to play in real waves, you’d see an unprecedented shift in what was possible.